Church is not Church

collection plateIf we were allowed to attend one of the leadership meetings at our local congregation–those meetings that only the leadership are allowed to attend, guess what topics would be discussed? Usually only one topic: Money. If there is a second topic: Church growth: how to get more people to come to this organization. Why? One reason could be: because we don’t have enough money. A second reason could be: because we feel better about ourselves as leaders if the group is growing.

churchThe American church, as it is run today, bears little resemblance to what Jesus envisioned. Jesus walked around the countryside living with his disciples, telling metaphorical stories about God and the kingdom. The apostle Paul envisioned relationships between older people and younger people that would slowly produce maturity. What we have today is more of a popularity contest. If the church doesn’t grow, the preacher gets fired, and a more popular preacher is hired. The more popular preacher is under the gun: attract more people or move on. You want a raise? Get people to give more money. Biggest item on all traditional congregation’s budgets: preacher’s salary. Second biggest item: a building to gather the people who will support the preacher. Preachers are too invested to look at these problems objectively: they have four to six years of schooling, and school debt to pay for, and a career choice to justify.

fish kissPastors have an impossible task: make today’s popularity contest churches look like what Jesus established, while supporting themselves from the contributions their churches collect. Pastors come from idealistic backgrounds: over 60% of pastors are the children of an alcoholic parent. Most pastors are in serious burnout: 70% say they are depressed and don’t have a good marriage, 60% use porn, 25% are currently having an affair with a member of their congregation. Most would leave the pastorate if they could find another way to support their families.

Our pseudo-churches offer just enough to justify or fool people into thinking that what they are participating in is an actual church that Jesus established: singing together (one of the most uplifting experiences for humans), a God-centered message (that makes us feel good), pseudo-prayer (not really talking to God, mostly more sermon, or just filler between more presentable items), and communion (reduced to tiny morsels, and divorced entirely from the Seder meal at which Jesus instituted it). If these fail to stir up the populace, then sometimes we trot out the Enemies: the gays, the communists, the enemies of Israel, porn, secular humanism, and abortion. Trot out the other pony: missionary speakers and mission trips, and there we have it: the Evangelical Show. We get bored, but we stay in church because we want our kids to get a godly foundation: youth group, where our kids learn how to smoke marijuana and have sex, while the parents fool themselves into thinking they are getting holy. Almost everything we do in church today is not what it says it is: Worship is seldom worship, prayer is seldom prayer, communion is seldom communion, teaching is seldom learning, relationship is seldom relationship. Everything is canned, packaged and on video for sale. To call it Church is a sales pitch that convinces about half of evangelicals. The other half stays home.

Postmodern churches, the happening emerging churches, have a steady diet of sermons entitled: “We do it differently”, “How church should really be”, and “Real Church”, that hold out a carrot stick of hope to thousands who find McEvangelical Church empty of calories. The sermons are different: different enemies, different emphases, updated music, until five years later we realize our emerging church is no different: same focus on money and building, same popularity contest, same emptiness.

breakfastSo we quit, and then we get the call from the pastor: Would you like to meet? And then the awkward breakfast meeting: Why aren’t you coming to church? “Because it’s not church.” What pastor wants to hear that? Every pastor is working his/her butt off trying to please everyone so the church will grow. How dare you say I’m not working hard enough? “I’m not saying that. I’m saying the agenda set by the populace is not Jesus’ agenda.”

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About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
This entry was posted in Evangelical Church, Evangelism. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Church is not Church

  1. Mark,

    As a former c of c preacher myself (as well as a son and grandson of same) I always appreciate your articles, but especially today’s. You speak a lot of truth here. There really isn’t much left of the church that began with Jesus around anymore. Is there any place that is?

    Your articles make me wonder where you’ve landed these days. Have you found an answer yet to all your questions or are you still transitioning? For me, who has asked many of the same questions you do, the last 20 years have been a long, hard but ultimately great struggle; and I have finally found some real peace with it all – though I am nowhere NEAR where I started. Which doesn’t make everybody in the family happy (if you know what I mean).

    Anyway, in light of today’s missive I wanted to share a video I made a few years ago down in Nashville that I think you may get a kick out of:

    Keep up the good work, man –

    GL (aka BP)

  2. Tina Rae Collins says:

    I enjoy your blog posts. What answer have you found for yourself? What do you do, or how do you do it, to serve God in the way that seems right to you?

    • Mark says:

      Ooh, Tina. Thanks for the compliment, but your question takes me back to sectarian days. I tend to believe that I “serve God” everywhere I am, whatever I am doing. The first way that God asked to be served was for Adam to tend the garden and to have lots of sex and multiply. But I think your question was really about how do I fellowship? I haven’t figured that one out, just having left a congregation in January and not having found another. I do sing Shape Note hymns every Tuesday evening for two hours, then I go out with ten friends for two hours. So that is my congregation and my praise for now. Is it perfect? No. Does it meet all my worship and fellowship needs? No. Have I ever found a place or church that did? No. Do I sound defensive? Yes.

      • Tina Rae Collins says:

        I don’t think you sound defensive at all, Mark. I asked and you answered. I appreciate that. I like the Adam and Eve answer. It’s probably closer to what God wants than anything else.

      • Mark says:

        The Adam and Eve imperative: serving God by gardening and having sex…

      • R. A. says:

        Mark,

        I really enjoy your articles! I think you do an outstanding job communicating many of the issues ex-church of christers have. I feel a void in my life now because I enjoyed worshiping and having fellowship with others. However, even after 13 years as an ex-church of christ member, I am still gun shy of any organized religion. Nothing seems to fit –except this blog–and I always look forward to the next article.

        Take care
        Gina

      • Mark says:

        Thanks, Gina! We long for true fellowship and worship, but our previous experiences get in the way.

  3. Tina Rae Collins says:

    What else is there really? Create people and work the earth to feed the people. Ecclesiastes 9:9 (NIV) Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun–all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.

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